Ed Alexander reinstated as EHS principal

By Abby Morris and Thomas Wilson
amorris@starhq.com, twilson@starhq.com

   Peaceful, non-violent protests have availed much throughout history.
   Another such success story seemingly was made on Thursday when Elizabethton High School students protesting the suspension of Edwin Alexander as their principal heard the news they had demanded to hear from the city's school administration for three days: Edwin Alexander was returning as their principal.
   "They found out we were not going to just give up after a couple of days," said Jordan Elliott, 14, a freshman at EHS and one of several students who vocally opposed the principal's suspension.
   Students outside the high school erupted in cheers after learning an announcement had been made over the high school's public address system that Alexander had been reinstated as principal.
   "The senior class is not planning on walking across the stage unless he's there to hand us our diplomas," said Laura Browning, 18, a senior and one of scores of students who have spent a good part of the week protesting Alexander's suspension.
   City Director of Schools Dr. Judy Blevins confirmed Thursday that Alexander's suspension had been lifted and he had been reinstated as principal without condition.
   "We are moving forward," said Blevins. She said a meeting between herself and Alexander took place on Thursday morning. She declined to name all the attendees of the meeting, but said the grievance was "resolved".
   Blevins suspended Alexander indefinitely on Monday. She said Wednesday the decision was based on an investigation into a grievance filed by the high school's director of vocational education, Adeline Hyder, against Alexander in November 2002.
   Blevins said efforts had been made during the week to resolve the grievance. "We were making an attempt to resolve the issue as quickly as we could because the students need to be in school," she said. "I hate that it got this far, but you have to follow the process of litigation."
   The decision to reinstate Alexander came one day after dozens of students lay siege to City Hall, the ECS administration building, and at least two businesses of city school board members.
   Speaking with the Star Thursday, Alexander said he wished to return to his job with little fanfare. He said he was overwhelmed by the support from the students and parents.
   "What has occurred is now history. We will remember what has happened; learn from it, and not dwell on it, and will go out and do our job," said Alexander in a brief statement. "I want to thank all the students, and all others who have been so kind during this period."
   Alexander's suspension set off a firestorm of protest by EHS students and parents. Approximately 250 students walked out of school in protest of Alexander's removal on Tuesday morning. Scores of students later took to the school's gymnasium and roundly booed Blevins when she arrived at the school shortly before the walkout.
   Students and parents picketed the high school, City Hall, the school administration building and the offices of two school board members on Wednesday.
   "We Want Ed!" remained the rallying cry for students and parents when protests resumed on Thursday as students descended on the system's administration office. Officers from the Elizabethton Police Department were called to the Board of Education office because someone at the office reported that the students were causing a disruption.
   Officers arrived on the scene and advised the students and other protesters who were present to remain off the lawn of the building and out of the roadway and limit their protesting to the sidewalk.
   As officers arrived, some protesters were afraid that officers would ask them to leave the premises. A woman who lives next to the Board of Education's office told protesters that if law enforcement officers asked them to leave the Board of Education property, they could park their cars in her driveway and continue their protest from her private property.
   Passing motorists honked their horns in support of Alexander and the protesters and helped to keep the energy level high. Students stood on the sidewalks and chanted many different cheers showing their support for Alexander and their disapproval of Blevins' decision to suspend him from his job.
   Parents had planned a gathering Friday night to collect petitions from students, parents and concerned citizens supporting Alexander. Citizens planned a prayer service in support of Alexander on Saturday afternoon at Phillippi Baptist Church.
   "Why didn't the school board move to intervene in this instead of letting it go this far?" asked Tammy Ward, whose daughter is an EHS sophomore. "Are we going to lose other good teachers at this school?"
   Several students said Blevins had threatened to suspend graduation proceedings if they do not go back to class - a statement Blevins denied making. "We're not going back to class until they put Mr. Ed back in," senior Laura Browning said. "They keep telling us we shouldn't be protesting until we know all the facts. Well then, they should give us all the facts."
   Students started a petition for the reinstatement of Alexander as the principal at Elizabethton High School, according to Browning, and have already collected between 900 and 1,000 signatures on it. "This shows that it's not just the students, it's the parents and the citizens of Elizabethton as well," she said.
   Grandmother of an EHS student and two T.A. Dugger Junior High students, Pearl Smith was one of dozens of students and parents who went to Alexander's residence Thursday afternoon after school. A strong Alexander supporter, Smith said she spoke with Blevins on Thursday morning and urged her to bring a peaceful resolution to the situation.
   "I said with all that is going on in the world with this war, we need peace in our community," said Smith.
   Citizens had also inquired about a state law that permits an election recall of elected members of municipal government that could have led to the ouster of one or all five Elizabethton Board of Education members.
   According to Tennessee Code Annotated Title 6, Chapter 31, section 301, the registered voters of the city can remove any member of a city board of education from office.
   That process required a petition signed by registered voters equal in number to at least 66 percent of the total vote cast for the candidate for the board of education receiving the highest number of votes at the last regular election.
   Citizens can demand the recall of the board member sought to be removed by filing the petition with the county election commission. A separate petition must be filed for each sitting board member citizens seek to remove from the board, according to the statute.
   If the County Election Commission certificate shows that the petition is sufficient, the commission calls an election on the question of recall. At such an election, the voter shall vote either "for recall" or "against recall." If 66 percent of those voting vote "for recall", the board member named for recall is removed from the board.
   Hyder, who filed a grievance against Alexander in November, claimed he questioned her integrity, loyalty and her friendship with the schools' director.
   After the grievance was filed, attorney David E. Duggan of Maryville was appointed to investigate. He reported that Alexander had improperly confronted Hyder about her attendance at a workshop in Gatlinburg.
   However, Duggan's report found Alexander did not eject Hyder from the high school as alleged in her complaint. His report also found no evidence that Alexander engaged in any type of harassment or discrimination against her.